– Football’s big day is finally here!
Tens of thousands of fans flocked to the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, joining millions around Brazil and across South America who celebrated the last game of the monthlong football festival.
With Argentina right next door to Brazil, it was no surprise that Rio de Janeiro was completely awash in the sky-blue jerseys of that nation’s team, with upward of 70,000 “hermanos” flooding into the seaside city and making themselves at home.
Fans slept out on the golden sands of Copacabana beach under a hot tropical sun, swigging beer and cooking.
Javier Gonzalez traveled 40 hours by car from Buenos Aires to get to Rio in time for the match. He and four friends held out hopes of finding tickets for the final – but only had $230 a piece to spend, far less than what scalped tickets are going for. But he reckoned Brazilians with tickets will soon be desperate to be rid of them.
Gonzalez said that if Argentina loses, he’d head home tomorrow.
“But if they win,” he added hopefully, “we might not leave at all.”
Cintia Herrera, a 31-year-old secretary from Buenos Aires, was another of the football pilgrims, having spent 48 hours on a bus to be in Rio for the “once in a lifetime” final.
“The whole bus was full of Argentines singing and acting crazy, except for a few Brazilians who had to put up with us the whole way,” she said. “I felt really sorry for them.”
At Brazil’s temple to football, the Maracana stadium where the match was set to kickoff at 4 p.m. local time, workers arrived seven hours early, with queues trailing around the stadium several hours head of kickoff.
There was a heavy security presence around the stadium and across Rio. More than 25,000 police and soldiers were on guard just for the game, according to officials, the biggest security detail in Brazilian history.
Inside the stadium, world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were seen sitting in the stands with FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter, watching some pre-match entertainment.
With Brazil roundly praised for how it’s carried out the Cup, considered by many fans to be among the most exciting in recent decades, authorities were taking no chances of anything ruining their big day.
Around the Maracana, where 74,000 spectators were expected to cram for the final, lines of security forces wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying rifles stood watch. Roads were closed and military helicopters buzzed overhead, with Brazilian authorities still wary that the violent protests that marred last year’s Confederations Cup warm-up event may reappear. A few hours before the match, one anti-World Cup protest had gathered around 200 people in a plaza a few kilometers from the stadium.
Fabiane Chiesa lives about 75 meters from the Maracana, located in Brazil’s working class Tijuca neighborhood. Chiesa’s street was blocked at both ends and she said she basically couldn’t leave her house until 11 p.m., when police lift the blockade.
“It is a bit inconvenient, and I can’t invite friends over to watch the match,” she said. “They could not get past the soldiers. On the other hand, I’ve never felt safer.”
But Brazil was hoping to blend the serious issue of security with fun for the fans.
Across the road from the lines of military police surrounding the stadium, Argentina supporters danced and sang in a cafe, eagerly awaiting their chance to win the World Cup for the first time since Diego Maradona’s team in 1986.
“Messi will lift it! Messi will lift it!” the Argentines chanted, hoping that their star player Lionel Messi will pick up the solid gold trophy at the end.
German fans were filtering in, too, hoping for a fourth World Cup title. There were also supporters wearing Colombia, Mexico, Northern Ireland and Brazil shirts, and many more.
For the host country, the football ended in disappointment with a 7-1 rout at the hands of the Germans in the semifinals, but the tournament – with one game to go – has been hailed as a great success.
“We did ok, yes?” said a Brazilian walking around the outskirts of the Maracana wearing his team’s canary-yellow shirt.
Associated Press Sports Writer Stephen Wade contributed to this report.